St Luke's Anglican Church in Enmore a lively, inclusive welcoming liturgical community

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost

Ser­mon preached by Fr Jeff Park­er at St. Luke’s Enmore, 27th Octo­ber 2019

Joel 2:23–32; 2 Tim 4:6–8, 16–18; and Luke 18:15–30

What must I do to inher­it etern­al life?  This is a ques­tion Luke likes to put on the lips of vari­ous people in his stor­ies.  Earli­er, in Chapter 10, a law­yer on that occa­sion, asked exactly the same ques­tion – and the answer there was dif­fer­ent.  

Jesus had answered then that the key to heaven’s door was to love God with all the heart mind soul and strength and to love the neigh­bour as one­self … which led to the story of the good Samar­it­an and the com­mand­ment to go and do the same.

But here the answer to the ques­tion is not the two great com­mand­ments but, as well as obey­ing the com­mand­ments of God, to sell one’s pos­ses­sions and to then give the pro­ceeds to the poor.   

Of course we all have pos­ses­sions and we all have favour­ite pos­ses­sions with which we would find it very dif­fi­cult to part.  So this answer from Jesus was not only very hard for this ruler to hear but its also dif­fi­cult for us to hear and respond to.

So how can we approach this dilemma?  

The read­ing from Joel sets up our dis­cus­sion in a way.  It’s a read­ing we usu­ally have at Pente­cost because it speaks of the out­pour­ing of the Holy Spir­it.

God has great plans for us and God is on his people’s side.  God will care for us and provide for us.  And God will send his Holy Spir­it upon us.  The Spir­it will empower us to speak on God’s behalf and to dream of a bet­ter future. God is sov­er­eign over all and as we give ourselves to God’s ser­vice, we receive bless­ings far bey­ond what we deserve and he will watch over and pro­tect us from the dangers of this world.  

The dangers of this world being the ones that sep­ar­ate us from God.  Paul lists some of these in his let­ter to the Gala­tians which must have appar­ent in the churches in that place:  for­nic­a­tion, impur­ity, licentious­ness, 20idol­atry, sor­cery, enmit­ies, strife, jeal­ousy, anger, quar­rels, dis­sen­sions, fac­tions, 21envy, drunk­en­ness, carous­ing. 

Some of those words are a bit vague even for me, so I turned to Eugene Petersen’s “The Mes­sage” trans­la­tion of the Bible for some clar­ity and I sure found that.

[19 It is obvi­ous what kind of life devel­ops out of try­ing to get your own way all the time: repet­it­ive, love­less, cheap sex; a stink­ing accu­mu­la­tion of men­tal and emo­tion­al garbage; fren­zied and joy­less grabs for hap­pi­ness; 

20 trinket gods; magic-show reli­gion; para­noid loneli­ness; cut­throat com­pet­i­tion; all-con­sum­ing-yet-nev­er-sat­is­fied wants; a bru­tal tem­per; an impot­ence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lop­sided pur­suits; 

21 the vicious habit of deper­son­al­iz­ing every­one into a rival; uncon­trolled and uncon­trol­lable addic­tions; ugly par­od­ies of com­munity.]  Put­ting it in those terms, we don’t want to fall into that kind of life – and our faith, the Holy Spir­it work­ing in us, is what helps us not to.

When the ruler asks Jesus about the way to etern­al life, he would not have been sur­prised by the first part of Jesus’ response – in which he says, “just fol­low the law.”   But he would have been shocked by the second.   What we see is a clash between the accep­ted ways of this world and the upside-down ways of the King­dom of God.

This fel­low who con­fronts Jesus with his ques­tion is described as a ‘ruler’, an import­ant man, and a wealthy one.  In his world, might is right.  In his world, only cer­tain people of rank are wel­come at the din­ner table, ser­vants and chil­dren, are not of great value, women even less so.  In his world com­pas­sion is only giv­en to the deserving.   This is the world that he rules over.  And addi­tion­ally, he has such an attach­ment to his riches and pos­ses­sions that he can­not even ima­gine giv­ing them up.  

It remains the case that hav­ing pos­ses­sions is not a spir­itu­al prob­lem unless they become an idol, an object of wor­ship for us and some­thing that we use purely for ourselves – our own enrich­ment and enjoy­ment even in the face of oth­ers’ poverty.

What was Jesus’ atti­tude to these things?   In our read­ing just before this encounter with the ruler, people were bring­ing little chil­dren to Jesus so that he could touch them and bless them. 

In bible times chil­dren didn’t always man­age to grow up.  One resource I looked at said that at this time in his­tory, infant mor­tal­ity was about 30% of births.  Anoth­er 30% of the chil­dren who sur­vived birth were then the vic­tims of dis­ease, fam­ine, or war.  And many after that did not make it to 16 years of age.

So per­haps it was in the minds of those bring­ing their chil­dren to Jesus that one touch from him might save their lives.  

Ini­tially we see that the dis­ciples were of a sim­il­ar mind to the cul­ture of that day.  Chil­dren were not import­ant.  Jesus should not waste his time on them, surely the adults await­ing his teach­ing were the ones to whom Jesus would give his pri­or­ity.

But in the King­dom of God, where the love of God fash­ions laws which are the oppos­ite of what human beings con­struct, the chil­dren are the ones to whom Jesus gives his atten­tion first and fore­most.

He says these most remark­able words which are always so pre­cious and lov­ing and amaz­ing.

 ‘Let the little chil­dren come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the king­dom of God belongs. Luke 18:16

It’s a famil­i­ar pat­tern of Jesus’ beha­viour and one that Luke often high­lights for us.  It’s always the least likely per­son who Jesus will care for… the des­pised Samar­it­an, the sin­ful woman, the blind beg­gar, the leper, and here the little child.   These are the ones that Jesus blesses and points to.  These are the ones that Jesus reminds us that God loves amaz­ingly, not des­pite their ill­ness or their lowly status but because of it.

This atti­tude is found­a­tion­al for us as we min­is­ter to a world where its val­ues con­tin­ue to be those of the ruler.   We could list those in our com­munity today who are not val­ued as they should be.   We walk past them in the streets lying on blankets and sleep­ing bags; we see them in parks or on pub­lic trans­port.  And there are those whose life­styles are dif­fer­ent and rejec­ted by many.  These are the ones to whom Jesus showed spe­cial care and atten­tion.    And we are duty bound to fol­low.

It rings so true that his hear­ers, who included the dis­ciples and oth­ers, were shocked by Jesus words about the dif­fi­culty for those who are rich to find a way into God’s King­dom.  I can just see them throw­ing up their hands as they say to him “then who can be saved?”  If the rich good respect­able people can’t be saved then who?   If it’s easi­er for a camel to go through the eye of an needle than a rich per­son mak­ing it to heav­en, then what hope is there for us in this very rich coun­try and well off soci­ety?

We find the answer in God.  God sent his son Jesus into the world to teach and heal his people, and to go to the cross and be raised.  We could not over­come the false val­ues of our crazy world, without the work of Jesus Christ, his life, min­istry death resur­rec­tion and exal­ta­tion and the send­ing of the Spir­it. 

This is how we are saved.  No by our own mer­its but through Jesus.

In 2 Timothy, the author tells of his life, his tri­als and how he has tried his best to be to be faith­ful.  Unlike the ruler, he is able to be con­fid­ent about enter­ing the King­dom of God because he has lived a life of King­dom val­ues, even though it hasn’t always been easy.  He shares with us his life’s struggle:

7I have fought the good fight, I have fin­ished the race, I have kept the faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown of right­eous­ness,

There is no ques­tion in his mind about what more he needs to do. 

May the gos­pel val­ues and pri­or­it­ies of Jesus be ours.  May the Holy Spir­it give us the strength to live those val­ues espe­cially when it is hard, and so may the crown of right­eous­ness be ours also.